Treating a Sprained or Separated Shoulder


A separated should injury is fairly common in contact sports such as hockey, rugby, football, and lacrosse.  Having recently experienced this injury myself, I thought I’d share some tips. I’m no doc, so do not take this as professional medial advice. With that said, my first tip is:

1. See a Doctor/Get an X-ray

I think we all know that guy who can no longer straighten his arm, run, etc. because he never got his injury checked out. Don’t be him. You might feel OK, especially at first because your adrenaline is pumping. Don’t take any chances. A doc who knows how to read an x-ray will be able to grade the severety of the injury. Which brings us to the next point…

Photo by rustybrick

2. Determine the Severity of the Injury

If you need surgery, it’s better to find out sooner than later. Separated shoulder injuries have different levels, or types. They are usually ranked on a scale of one to five. Find out where your injury ranks. This will determine the treatment.

3. Treatment

In general, you can never go wrong with the RICE method: Rest, Ice, Compress, Elevate.

Rest – Get a comfortable sling to give your shoulder a break. I bought a cheap one at the drugstore and it was terribly uncomfortable. This should go without saying but don’t start playing again until you’re ready. My injury was relatively minor and I still needed six weeks off. Even then, I felt I came back a little too soon.

Ice – When you’re icing an injury, go 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off. This helps keep the swelling down. Use an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen rather than a pain killer like Tylenol. Personally, two ibuprofens didn’t do much for me, but the prescription strength 800mg did the trick; at least enough to allow me to  sleep.

Compression – With a shoulder injury, the compression part is a little tough.

Elevate – When sleeping or sitting, propping your elbow with a pillow will help take the stress off your shoulder.

4. Explaining Yourself

Wearing a sling inevitably attracts unwanted attention. Since people will ask you how you injured yourself, have a 15 second explanation ready. Also, do not tell people your separated your shoulder. For some reason they think that means you dislocated it. Instead, tell them you sprained your shoulder. People understand that better.

5. Physical Therapy

To help rehabilitate your shoulder, get an elastic band or elastic tubing. Wrap it around a door knob and perform resistance exercises similar to the ones shown here. The recommendation I received for each exercise was one set of about 20 reps, three times per day. A doctor or physical therapist should be able to recommend a specific training plan to target the areas requiring strength building.

Injuries suck, but my advice is to stick it out and let your body heal before you get back in the action. If you’ve ever suffered a shoulder injury, feel free to share what worked for you in the comments.

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